Buy now! - Learn more about Abaarso's extraordinary story in Abaarso Founder, Jonathan Starr's, new book "It Takes A School"

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Our Team

Abaarso’s success would not be possible without the support of a diverse and talented group of faculty and board members, both in Somaliland and the U.S., who are all incredibly dedicated to the success of the school and the future opportunities of its students.

Executive Staff
Somaliland Board of Directors

Mr. Ahmed Jambir Suldan, Board Chair
Former Interior Minister, Somaliland Ministry of the Interior

Mr. Saeed Ahmed Mohamoud, Board Vice Chair
Independent Consultant

Mr. James Linville, Board Secretary
Headmaster, Abaarso School of Science and Technology

Mr. Ahmed Ibrahim Awale
Chairman, Candlelight for Environment, Education, and Health

Mr. Abdi Hassan Duale
Executive Officer, National Professions Commission

Mr. Abdulkader Hashi Elmi
CEO, Maansoor Hotel

Mr. Omer Jama Farah
Manager, Taakulo Somaliland Community

Ms. Amal Ahmed Misan
Presidential Advisor on Women’s Affairs, Somaliland Presidential Office

Sh Mohamed Mohamoud, Religious Scholar

Dr. Jinaw Mohamed Qaalib
Medical Doctor and Lecturer, Global Polyclinic, University of Hargeisa, and Frantz Fanon University

U.S. Advisory Board Members

Jonathan Starr
Founder and Headmaster Emeritus

Anand Desai
Board Chair

Mohammed Ali
Senior Vice President, Hartford Investment Management Company

Gaurav Bhandari
Managing Partner, Long Arc Capital

Andra Ehrenkranz
Independent Education/Marketing Professional

John Ehrenkranz
Chief Investment Officer, Ehrenkranz Partners LP

Mitch Golden
Portfolio Manager, Greenlight Masters

Mustafa A. Jama
Managing Director, Morgan Stanley Investment Management

Steve Kuhn
Co-founder, ASK Charitable Foundation

Adeel Qalbani
Managing Partner, Perry Creek Capital

Michael Pollack
Clinical Assistant Professor of Business & Society, NYU Stern School of Business

Bradley Francis
Portfolio Manager, Pharo Management LLC

Abaarso Staff
Jonathan Starr
Founder | Headmaster Emeritus

Since 2008, Jonathan has been Managing Director, Headmaster, and Founder of Abaarso School. From 2004 – 2008, Jonathan founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm that managed $170 million of assets. Prior to Flagg Street, he worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and at Blavin and Company. Jonathan’s career started as a Research Associate within the Taxable Bond Division at Fidelity Investments. In addition to his full-time responsibilities, Jonathan sat on the Board of Directors of Pomeroy IT Solutions, a publicly traded IT company generating $500 million of annual sales. Jonathan’s board responsibilities included acting as a member of the Audit Committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Special Committee (strategic alternatives) of Pomeroy. Jonathan graduated from Emory University, with a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s #1 Failed State
by Jonathan Starr

A story of David and Goliath proportions, how an American hedge fund manager created a unique school in Somaliland whose students, against all odds, have come to achieve success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.


Ava Ramberg

A native of Minnesota, Ava graduated with high distinction from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School with a degree in Public/Non-Profit Management and Entrepreneurial Management. Ava’s interest in international development began at Children’s Home Society and Family Services. Before Abaarso, she served as a youth and maternal health education advocate in Kenya. She also traveled extensively in East Africa and speaks English, French, and Swahili. At Abaarso, Ava taught math for three years and developed a passion for improving students’ fundamentals and ability to think critically. Ava also served as the Assistant Headmaster and the Director of Development, initiating Abaarso’s Kiva program. Now in New York, Ava is committed to ensuring that Abaarso will continue to create thoughtful, tenacious, and principled leaders of Somaliland. Ava is now also the Executive Director of Barwaaqo University, a project launched by Abaarso in 2017. 

James Linville
Headmaster | Faculty of Mathematics

James was born and raised in New York, NY. He graduated with high honors from the University of Virginia, studying politics, philosophy and history. He was briefly a PhD student at Princeton University before leaving in 2014 to join Abaarso In his time at Abaarso he has served as Head of the Lower School, Assistant Headmaster and, since December 2015, as Headmaster.  In addition to running Abaarso, he is a Trustee of Coker College, and manages a fund dedicated to expanding educational opportunity within disadvantaged communities.

Katie Chlumska
Assistant Headmaster | Faculty of English

Katie was born in the Czech Republic, but grew up and studied in Great Britain. After graduating with a BA International Relations (with German) from the University of Exeter, she pursued further education, completing a Masters degree in Global and Comparative Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. Throughout her studies, Katie developed a passion for the non-profit sector, particularly working with youth, in education development and modern ESL curriculum development, founding an English conversation programme for refugees in London and leading a community development society between the University of Exeter and Palestinian youth. Since leaving the UK in 2013, Katie has worked and travelled around the world, including teaching at a non-profit school in Palestine, running children and youth programmes in Europe, aiding in post-earthquake relief efforts in Nepal and developing a PreK-KS2 English curriculum in a modern boarding school in China. In her spare time, Katie has volunteered for organisations such as UNICEF, Our Sansar or Amnesty International and enjoyed travelling and social media.

Marlee Burns
Co-Head of the Upper School | Faculty of Mathematics

Marlee graduated with highest honors from the University of Texas at Austin, triple majoring in International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, and Plan II Honors. While there, she founded a mentoring program with a local middle school, and spent two summers studying in Turkey. In Spring 2015, she was selected as a White House Intern where she worked with the White House Fellowship Program, developing the leadership skills of young people. After graduation, Marlee moved to a small town in rural Azerbaijan as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, where she loved being immersed in the community and culture. She is an avid stress baker, and enjoys camping and traveling. Marlee loves working with youth and is extremely excited to work with the Abaarso students.

Cassandra Murtagh
Co-Head of the Upper School | Faculty of English & Science

Cassandra was born and raised in a small town in the west of Ireland. She studied concurrent degrees in History and Political Science BA (Hons) in Trinity College Dublin, and Law LLB in Independent Colleges Dublin; graduating from both in 2014. Cassandra then went on to work at the National Archives Foundation, in Washington D.C. promoting education and awareness of American history. After a year in the States, Cassandra returned to Ireland and completed a law masters in Peace Operations, Humanitarian Law and Conflict at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Cassandra is passionate about political engagement and gender equality in politics, and is active in local and national politics.

James Greisler
Head of the Lower School | Faculty of English & Creative Arts

Originally from a small town in Upstate New York, James graduated from Hamilton College in 2010 with a BA in Theatre. Wishing to see the world, James spent the following years teaching English in South Korea and in the Republic of Georgia. From 2013-2014 James spent two years teaching English in Malaysia under the Fulbright Program. There he led drama activities, including adaptations of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Dr. Seuss stories, as well as over 20 day-long English camps and a student art exhibition. James also did outreach work with his Orang Asli (native) students and their community, resulting in a meeting between the students and U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. An avid reader, James enjoys hiking, folk dances, and playing his trumpet and sapeh.

Ryan Pakebusch
College Counselor | Faculty of English & History

Ryan graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin, receiving a dual-degree in Government and Communication Studies. While there, he was president of a chapter of an international development non-profit, lobbied for university issues to the Texas legislature, the White House, and Congress, mentored and tutored at a East Austin high school, and studied in the United Kingdom with the War Studies Department at King’s College London. He has also taught financial workshops and consulted community banks in Ghana and Honduras. In Spring 2017, he completed a fellowship with the Governor of Texas, working on homeland security issues. Ryan is excited to join Abaarso and dive into teaching and bringing energy to all aspects of his involvement with the school.

Jin Sasaki
Finance Director | Faculty of Science

Jin has lived in East Africa for the majority of his life, living in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya. Jin graduated from Cornell University with a BS in International Agriculture and Rural Development. As a student he was involved in rugby and volunteered in the orientation program. He is an avid traveller and coffee enthusiast.

Stephen Finney
Project Manager

Originally from Kentucky, Stephen received a BA in Studio Art (focusing in glass blowing and ceramics) from Centre College in 2008. From 2009-2011, he served as Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon and worked as an agroforestry extension agent. His primary projects were aimed at sustainable agriculture practices, reforestation techniques, and the implementation of “appropriate technologies.” Additionally, he taught primary school English at the local school and finance courses to adults in the community. After the Peace Corps, Stephen attended Parsons the New School for Design in New York City and received a Double MFA in architectural lighting design and interior architectural design. Most recently, he has been merging the technical with the aesthetic while teaching graduate courses in architectural representation/spatial analysis at Parsons The New School for Design and working as an architectural lighting designer on electric/daylight design for museums and cultural institutions.

Najib Abdihamid Ahmed
Dean of Boys | Faculty of English, History, & Social Studies

Najib is an Abaarso alumnus and a member of the first graduating class of Abaarso School. He recently graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with a BSFS in International Politics. While at Georgetown, Najib had the opportunity to work extensively with the Admissions Department, which deepened his interests in educational policy and management. During his free time, Najib enjoys reading, playing basketball, and travelling. He looks forward to going back to Abaarso.

Abdiwahab Sh. Husein Ali
Faculty of Islamic Studies

Sheekhu wuxuu dhashay sanadii 1977. Waxbarashadiisa waxa uu ka bilaabay magaalada Baydhaba. Waxa uu xooga saaray barashada aqoonta diinta Alle. Soyaalkiisii dheeraa ee waxbarashadiisa diintu waxay ahayd mid aan kala go’ lahayn. Laga soo bilaabo 10 jirkiisii ilaa maanta oo uu 40 jir yahay. Ma aha oo kaliya waxbarasho uu baranaayey, balse waxa uu leeyahay khibrad dhanka wax-dhigista diinta iyo ku barbaarinta caruurta tarbiyada wanagsan oo uu ku soo dhex jirey mudo ku dhow 25 sano. Macalinku waxa uu wax ka soo dhigay magalooyinka Baydhabo, Muqdisho, iyo Hargeisa. Waxa intaas dheer isaga oo Culuumta Shareecada ka diyaariyey Jamacada Golis ee Hargeisa.

Chazaq Llinas
Faculty of Mathematics

From Ocean City, Maryland, Chazaq Llinas graduated from St. John’s College after having studied under a Great Books program which spans the western canon of mathematics, science, literature and philosophy. He received a BA in Liberal Arts after having completed his senior essay on Plato’s Theaetetus. Following graduation, Chazaq spent two years in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was a secondary school English teacher in the rural village of Dassari. In addition to teaching, he created a Girls’ Football Club, coordinated internship programs for motivated students, and participated in a variety of national summer camps and educational trainings. He has spent the last year as a English Language Assistant in Argenteuil, France, a suburb outside of Paris at a ZEP (Zone d’éducation prioritaire) designated school. He enjoys cooking, chess, film, and hiking.

Arkadiusz “Arek” Wilczynski
Faculty of Computer Science

Arkadiusz graduated from Poznan University of Technology in 2013 with a Master of Science in Computer Science. During his studies he spent a semester at Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal and completed the IAESTE internship in Istanbul, Turkey. Shortly after graduation he fulfilled his dream of traveling between Beijing, China and Bali, Indonesia without taking a plane. The following year he returned to China to work as a middle school teacher. When not traveling, Arek works as a freelance programmer developing web applications.

Jack Osbrough
Faculty of English & Science

Jack grew up in a small town in regional Australia. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Bachelor of International Studies (with Distinction) double degree from Deakin University. While at university, Jack was fortunate enough to be supported by an equity scholarship from the Dafydd Lewis Trust. Touched by the generosity and foresight of others that enabled him to pursue a tertiary education, Jack decided to give back to the global academic community through joining the Abaarso team.

Ivar Anderson
Faculty of Humanities

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Ivar received his Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, with honors, from Portland State University in 2012. He went on to teach English at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization in Portland, followed by a four and a half year stint teaching in Bursa, Turkey. He is a lover of literature, travel, teaching and learning.

Alex Niswander
Faculty of Math

Alex grew up in a variety of places, including Ohio, Texas, Alaska, and London. While working towards his BS in Mechanical Engineering at Olin College in picturesque Needham, MA he played ultimate frisbee and built human-powered vehicles. After a short stint as a City of Boston bicycle messenger, Alex moved overseas to Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi where he worked on cooling and solar projects and helped refurbish a beam down solar concentrator. During his time in the UAE he was able to visit Abaarso School as part of Engineers Without Borders and knew that he wanted to come and teach someday. Most recently Alex performed mechanical design work at a medical robotics startup in Silicon Valley. Alex enjoys teaching and learning from bright, motivated students and he is excited to have the opportunity to work at Abaarso School.

Muna Sultan
Faculty of Humanities

Muna was born and raised in London, England and is of Somali origin. She graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (Hons) in 2017. Muna is excited to return to Somaliland and give back to her country by having the opportunity to work with students at Abaarso.

Gianna Biaggi
Faculty of Humanities

Gianna Biaggi is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, with a degree in International and American Studies. At Kenyon, Gianna was a Newman’s Own Foundation Scholar, taught at a Headstart Center and a local high school, and was a night shift worker at a women’s shelter. Gianna is a 2017 winner of the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award, and an Interexchange Christianson Grantee, which allowed her to spend a year in Kenya, working on girls education and literacy initiatives.

Jennifer Ayala
Faculty of Humanities

Born and raised in Southern California, Jennifer graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2012 with a BA in Philosophy. After graduation she volunteered in the Republic of Georgia for a year, teaching English in a rural mountain village. Jennifer then returned to California and worked in public libraries, developing children’s’ literacy initiatives and after-school family programs. After a couple years in the US Jennifer joined the Peace Corps, where she served in China from 2016-2018 as an English teacher in a university. In her free time she enjoys standup comedy, weight lifting, and hiking.

Farhan Elmi
Faculty of Computer Science

Farhan is an Abaarso alumnus. After graduating from Abaarso,  he went to Jacobs University Bremen, Germany, where he pursued a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering & management with a minor in international business administration.  He graduated from Jacobs in this year. Farhan enjoys teaching and supporting students; hence, he became intercultural trainer in his second year at university where he taught incoming students intercultural competence to help them succeed in a diverse university. During his time at Jacobs he was also a peer supporter where he provided counseling assistance to undergraduate students as part of J-Peers Program of Jacobs University

Virginia Somers
Faculty of Humanities

Virginia is originally from the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. She attended the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor where she received her BA in Social Theory and Practice with a focus on African Internal Development and Human Rights as well as a minor in Afroamerican and African Studies. During her time as an undergraduate, she held internships in the fields of security, development and peacekeeping. Her father constantly pushed and inspired her to achieve greater goals in her academic, professional and personal life. She hopes to honor his memory and provide that same kind of encouragement to her students at Abaarso.

Asma Faisal
Faculty of Somali Language

Asma was born and raised in Hargeisa, Somaliland. She graduated from Admas University in 2016 majoring in Business and Economics. She voluntarily worked one year for an organization called Nagaad as a social worker and was a Somali teacher in the afternoon at a school called Nasrudin. She also volunteered in the Hargeisa Cultural Center where she was a librarian. Asma loved her Somali classes during her education and always dreamed of becoming a Somali teacher. She is looking forward to teaching the Abaarso upper school students in classes and working with the girls in the dorms this year.

Andrew Neal
Faculty of English and Science
Originally from New Zealand, Andrew (often known as Andy) is teaching back at Abaarso for a second time after a year-long hiatus expanding his range of abilities in Poland. In his sixth year of teaching overall, Andy is working with lower school students in 7th grade English and 8th grade Science. He is excited to exchange plenty of knowledge and fun facts with students as they learn about the world around them and hear their own stories and ideas presented to the wider world.
Connor Method
Faculty of Mathematics and Science

Connor Method is a 2016 graduate of Marquette University, with degrees in Finance & Economics, minoring in Psychology. Connor has had a range of teaching experiences, from english training centers in China, to non-profits in the U.S., as well as online. Connor is currently enrolled in a part-time online Master’s in Education with Purdue University, specializing in Learning, Design, and Technology. He is an avid learner, loves film, and has a passion for creating unique learning experiences for others.